One of the most important areas missed by most fantasy football drafters is strength of schedule. I’m not just talking about how many wins and losses a team has, but how hard of a schedule an individual player has.
Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs had the easiest schedule against the run in football. Jamaal Charles was able to rack up over 1,400 rushing yards while only running the ball 17-plus times on four occasions.
While we don’t know yet the exact layout of each team’s schedule, we do know who each team will play at home and away.
We here at TheSportsCannon.com have determined the top 10 easiest schedules for running backs for the upcoming year. The running back SOS was determined by taking in how many points the opposing teams gave up to running backs when at home and away.
For example, the Houston Texans are normally very strong against the run at home, but when they are on the road, the Texans defense gives up almost twice as many points.
The offseason is long and many more trades and acquisitions can still improve or hurt a team’s run defense. We know now only what the strength of schedule would be if the season started tomorrow.
Be sure to check back once the season opener approaches to see how the offseason has affected each team’s strength of schedule, or you can keep your eyes glued to TheSportsCannon.com for all of our fantasy football news.
1. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have the easiest schedule ahead, playing home games against some of the worst defenses against the run in 2010. It doesn’t hurt to play the Panthers twice per season, but when you play your toughest defenses at home (Minnesota, Green Bay) and your easiest opponents away, (Detroit, Seattle) things will look good for your running attack.
Michael Turner is a cornerstone of the hot Atlanta offense, and the Falcons will probably look to the draft to add speed to their running back corps.
2. Tennessee Titans
As if Chris Johnson really needed any help to have a phenomenal fantasy season, he will also have the luxury of the second-easiest schedule for running backs.
The Titans will likely be breaking in a new quarterback to start the season and will rely on Chris Johnson to score points offensively. As of now, it appears the only defense the Titans will play that has a phenomenal run defense is Pittsburgh, which they will play on the road. After that one game, however, the Titans have a fairly easy run schedule.
The AFC South itself is just plain bad against the run. Also on the schedule are Denver and Tampa at home (first and eighth easiest respectively).
3. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson will be in a boat very similar to the S.S. Chris Johnson this year. Both will have a new—and presumably young—quarterback leading their offense and both have very easy schedules.
The NFC North is truly the toughest division to run in, as three of the four teams are in the top eight-toughest to run against. The NFC North has been tough for the entirety of Adrian Peterson’s career, however.
Right now, Peterson is my top-rated running back in 2011 because even though the NFC North is tough, his schedule still works out so that he will be running against inferior teams when not playing Green Bay or Chicago. Two games against Detroit and home games against Denver, Tampa Bay and the Cardinals give Peterson owners an easy road to the playoffs.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Whether Frank Gore is healthy enough to make it through the whole season is what his owners in fantasy football will be most worried about. I would take advantage of that worry in this year’s draft.
Thanks to yet another year shortened by injuries, Gore’s stock will certainly plummet in the upcoming fantasy football drafts. Although the chances of him playing the whole season aren’t great, if you can get good value for Gore, you will love him when he suits up. The 49ers will have the luxury of playing NFC West teams six times, but they also play middle-of-the-road defenses all season.
5. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have been running the back-by-committee approach for a few years now but will likely part ways with DeAngelo Williams. This means if you are able to pick up Jonathan Stewart, do it!
The NFC South will play the NFC North this season but the Panthers will have the luxury of playing the toughest two (Minnesota and Green Bay) at home. Remember: The NFC South is weak against the run. Now add games against the Lions, Cardinals and Redskins and you’ve got yourself a fantasy workhorse.
6. Green Bay Packers
They may crack the top 10 here, but no matter who the starting running back is in Green Bay next year, you won’t see a Packer back in my top 10 rankings. This stat actually helps the Packers because teams that play poorly against the run are either just terrible or only have a good secondary.
If the Packers can keep from being too one-dimensional, it will mean more wins on the season.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have it much easier than their AFC North counterparts. The Bengals, Browns and Ravens all sit on the wrong end of the rankings (18th, 26th and 27th easiest run schedules, respectively).
Why the strong advantage? The Steelers will face their toughest tests all at home, as well as their easiest. The Steelers will end up playing only middle-of-the-pack defenses on the road and in most cases they will match up well.
8. San Diego Chargers
Running back Ryan Mathews had a poor year after being drafted in the first round by San Diego. He will surely be playing with a chip on his shoulder in 2011, as the Chargers will try to do an abrupt turnaround and get back to the top of the AFC West leaderboard.
However, I am not saying that Ryan Mathews will have it incredibly easy. The Chargers benefit greatly from playing in the AFC West, but they will have to play Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Minnesota and the New York Jets. All of those games seem like better opportunities for Phillip Rivers' owners than anyone.
9. New York Jets
The Jets had a formidable one-two punch with LT and Shonn Greene last season. If Greene can cut out the mental mistakes and LT can keep his pace, it could be another very good year for the Jets running backs.
Buffalo won’t be any better on defense—although the Bills can’t get any worse—and the Jets benefit by not having to play themselves in the AFC East. The Jets will also get to play the AFC West (see above).
10. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were No. 1 last year and are No. 10 this year. Looks like Jamaal Charles is in store for another great campaign.
The Chiefs only have three tough games on the schedule against the run, all of which are at home (versus Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Minnesota). They also get the Lions on the schedule.